Regional Farmers Market Report: Manhattan, Kansas

Regional Farmers Market Report: Manhattan, Kansas

Faith Durand
Oct 1, 2007

From Jennifer in Kansas comes this mid-September report: For years my office was a five minute walk from San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. Because I had little time for cooking, I rarely went. A few months ago, I temporarily relocated to Manhattan, Kansas. Having gained more time, and eager to get back into the kitchen, my boyfriend and I headed for our local Downtown Farmer's Market.

This being a more rural, farming area, I naively assumed a veritable feast of produce would await me there. Instead, I got a lesson on the challenges of eating locally depending on where you live. Yes, Kansas is an agricultural state, but its main commodities are cattle, wheat, corn, soybeans, and hogs, not sweet, juicy fruit, exotic mushrooms, or crisp baby asparagus. Oh Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, how I took you for granted!

By comparison, the local scene appeared grim. There were only a handful of vendors selling things like onions, drooping lettuce, and scant baskets of peaches, plums, and asparagus from California. Given the sweltering heat and our resulting fixation on cool, soothing fruit, we were disappointed.

We could get the same peaches and plums, plus cherries from New Jersey or Washington, berries from California, and watermelon from Nebraska at the supermarket during regular shopping trips. After two visits to the farmer's market, we threw in the towel.

At AT's request, however, I headed back. On this rainy Saturday, five of the roughly 20 vendors were selling fruit, almost exclusively watermelons and cantaloupes. One also featured tree-ripened peaches from Washington. I tried to probe about the mechanics of buying fruit in small quantities from afar, and reselling it locally, but the vendor spoke little English, and I little Spanish, which made for an unproductive interview. Thus, I moved on to purchase a bag of tiny, almost black elderberries from a gentleman who explained that they grew wild around his property.

Not being a red meat eater, I passed on the beef sans hormones, antibiotics, steroids, urea, and ionophores. While I was encouraged to see such fare being offered in a place economically dependent, in large part, on high-volume beef production, the sign was a chilling reminder of all the additives routinely pumped into our meat supply. I momentarily flirted with becoming a vegetarian.

On that note, the vegetable scene was much improved since my last visit. Peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplant, onions, and different varieties of squash and gourds were most abundant. There were some lingering zucchini, and tomatoes, and a few vendors were also offering produce like beets, leeks, radishes, beans, chard, Armenian cucumbers, and celery.

In addition to my four peaches and the elderberries, I bought beets, a bag of yellow, green and purple beans, and tomatoes (ripening small, but still sweet enough to pop right into your mouth, the seller promised), all for around $15.00. I plan making a salad of roasted beets, beans, and tomatoes, with a simple vinaigrette dressing. Now if only I had some Cowgirl Creamery cheese to crumble on top!

Thanks Jennifer!

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